Thursday, January 06, 2011

what you see depends on where you sit

This post title comes from wise words uttered by a former supervisor. Today's post has to do with a bit of a literal spin on the phrase.

Somehow I got on an email list of a church organization. The other day one of their distributions landed in my mailbox with the following list as its focus.  It put me in mind of an article in the NY Times several months ago about how the perspective of many in the pews about what church is about is different from its intended purpose, and how demanding some pew-sitters can be about how clergy ought to do their jobs.  The italics below is my response to the pew-sitter's "wish." Take with a grain of salt my sarcasm, which laces the truth.

10 Wishes from a Pew Sitter
At the start of a new year, as a pew-sitter, I have a few wishes for the church leaders I know and love:
  1. Banish the "stand and greet your neighbor" time in the worship service.     I know your intentions are good, but it's forced, fruitless and goofy.  This is known as the passing of the peace, an ancient practice shared by early Christians to express the love of Christ among them. Good intentions have nothing to do with this "forced, fruitless and goofy" ritual. It's an incarnational expression of love.  
  2. Forget everything they taught you about three-point sermons. You're wildly successful if you can get across one point. Just one point. Then sit down.
  3. Get out and spend time with real people. Schedule lunches at your members' workplaces and schools. Listen. Get a feel for how real people live.      I'm sorry, I didn't realize that clergy weren't real people. We put our pants on one leg at a time, just like you (assuming that you are a real person).  We have hopes, dreams, disappointments and heartbreaks. People annoy us. We have bills to pay, grocery lists to make, and oil to change in our cars.  The only thing that makes us different from "real people" is our job description. And I've got news for you. Your job description is just as different.
  4. Encourage regular evaluation. Use comment cards. Ask us what we remember from last week's sermon. Then take us seriously, and adjust.  I am happy to do this. Feedback is a helpful thing when it's constructive, and if my preaching isn't reaching you, I'd like to know that. Are you ready to receive the same, take it seriously, and adjust?
  5. Crank down the volume of the band. Allow us to actually hear the voices of the flock.   I'm not really into the band.
  6. Burn the fill-in-the-blank sermon guides. They're insulting, distracting and ineffective. (Can you imagine Jesus using them? Let's see, "Feed my _______.")  No comment.
  7. Show hospitality. Encourage people to enjoy a cup of coffee-during the service.    Church is not a coffee house. If you want coffee during church, stay home and watch it on TV. I think you mean, during the service, encourage people to enjoy a cup of coffee after the service.  If you're not getting that invitation at your place, come to mine.
  8. Let us participate. Entertain our questions-during the service. Let the real people around us tell how God is working in their lives.    There you go again with the "real people" taunt. Church is not a 12-step program, it's a time to praise God. I'm all for sharing testimony. When can I schedule you to preach?
  9. Relax. Make some real friends. Spend more time with your family. Don't schedule every evening with church meetings.     You need to expand your vocabulary. I'm sure you didn't mean to suggest that my relationships are shallow and meaningless. But I'll second this motion when it comes to having time away from the responsibilities and stresses of work. There's something you need to know, however: surgeries, deaths, and crises don't happen within nine-to-five schedules.  Your need to call to discuss how to handle a difficult personality on your committee interrupted the time I was spending with my child helping her with her homework.  Apparently calling you back was not an option, because you were going to be helping your son with his homework.
  10. Get rid of the pews. Really.    This one is negotiable. As long as the chairs you have in mind don't have those really low and uncomfortable backs.


The Bug said...

Shoot - the peace has been so successful at my last two churches that we have to start singing to get people to sit down & shut up. Obviously that person is going to the wrong church LOL!

Sadly - I can see some truth in what he's saying regarding some churches I've been in. But not in an Episcopal one - we're just just happy everyone is there!

Carolina Linthead said...

Wow. This list (NOT your comments, my friend, just the original list) offends me on so many levels I just don't know where to start, so I won't, other than to say "if you truly love them, walk a mile in your church leaders' shoes, or, perhaps, if you love Christ, feed his sheep instead of mocking the shepherds!" No wonder Jesus wept.

(signed) Righteously Indignant in Ohio

Carolina Linthead said...

Full disclosure: my mom was PK (preacher's kid), and my dad a licensed minister at one point. I am a seminary graduate. Yes, my family has been known to carve up any given minister at the dinner table on Sunday. On the other hand, my grandparents, parents, etc., worked tirelessly in support of their local church, and I really cannot recall ever thinking that my pastor was "out of touch" with the real world, real people, etc...quite the opposite. I can see how one might feel this way in some congregations, but as I'm most familiar with small to middling churches with overworked pastors and minimal staff, this one just got my goat. There, I have referenced both sheep and goats today. My work here is done ;-)

Carolina Linthead said...

I'm trying your patience, but I did want to add that I'm definitely not into the band thing, or "accompaniment" that drowns out the voices of the choir/congregation. I do love me some congregational singing!

I guess what bothers me most is something you hint at, Anne: where is worshiping God in this list? It's called a "worship service" for a reason, you know. Yes, there should be opportunities for people to share regarding how God is working in their lives...every church I've ever been a part of has provided those opportunities, in one form or another. Maybe the Bug is right (she often is): this dude needs to check out other churches.

Carolina Linthead said...

Final point: this list should be required reading for every seminarian. This is how some very real people feel about church and church leaders, obviously. It is based on their experience, perspective, and perception, and any young minister dismisses such a list at his or her peril. It's easy for me to mock the author, but I haven't sat a mile in his obviously uncomfortable pew seat...or something like that.

Terri said...

Well. I love best your thought about turn around is fair play - you want to give me feedback and have me adapt, then I will give you some and you need to adapt....some in my congregation would have freaked at that - thinking that its not mutual but directive. sad.

I think these are important ideas to think about but not necessarily as a list of must-do's. Rather they invite an opportunity to do some intentional reflection on what we are "doing" when we worship.

Jayne said...

Uh. Wow. Well. Not exactly sure what to say here. Amazing that someone actually composed that as a serious wish list?

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